January 26, 2014

Saints Xenophon, Maria, John and Arcadius as Models for our Lives

Sts. Xenophontos, Maria, Arkadios and John (Feast Day - January 26)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

In the chorus of saints we find not only those who lived in virginity in Christ, but also many who were married and even entire families. One of these is the family of Saint Xenophon. This holy man lived in the sixth century. He was of aristocratic descent with many material goods, but these didn't prevent him from living the spiritual life. With charity and love he saved them in the bank of heaven and acquired spiritual wealth. Together with his most pious wife Maria they raised their children, John and Arcadius, with the living teachings of the evangelical life. When the right time came, the two children, with the blessing of their parents went to Beirut to study law. Along the way their ship wrecked and many drowned. The two brothers were saved, by divine providence, and were eventually found in Jerusalem. There, without knowing what happened to each other, they met at the same monastery where they took up their habitation. When the parents learned about the shipwreck they began, as is natural, to look for them. With the joy of their meeting they took up the great decision of distributing their wealth to the poor and dressing up in the monastic schema. They lived the Orthodox evangelical life with zeal and obedience and all four were made worthy of communion with God. The "chorus of the saints" increased by four members and Orthodox families acquired another model and intercessors before God. In the list of saints of the Orthodox Church we find several such families, and many sanctified couples.

The life and deeds of the four members of this holy family give us the opportunity to make some comments and emphasize three points:

First, that our children are a gift from God. This is how parents should see them, and not as something that belongs to them, as their property with whom they could do whatever they want. They do not belong to us, but to our Creator. We are managers of His gifts. This truth, that God gives us our children, is clearly seen in Holy Scripture, and in everyday life. How many healthy couples are unable to have children, despite the fact that they have absolutely no health problems, and how many others have children despite the fact that it was humanly impossible and doctors ruled it out. The Divine Chrysostom stresses this fact in a characteristic way: "To bear children comes from on high by divine providence, and it is neither in the nature of a woman nor in the copulation of a man or anything else that is self-sufficient towards this" (Homily on Hannah, 1). God creates and parents become co-workers with God in the work of creation. Therefore, we should love them as gifts from God without wanting to impose our will on them in a violent way. Human freedom, this high gift from God, should not be violated in the name of love. Besides, true love respects and preserves human freedom. Children can understand when we show them true love and when, in its name, we are expressing our passions and frustrations.

Second, marriage is not an obstacle to salvation. There are married saints, as well as monks who are unworthy of their mission, and of course the opposite. And within the family one can live the commandments of Christ and reach sanctification and theosis. According to patristic teaching, marriage is the father of saints. It is enough for the members of a family to be in line with the life of the Church. Children within the realm of the Church learn to communicate with God, as well as other people, and thus they gain social skills. They become social elements and this is very important, since we all know how much society suffers from antisocial individuals. They acquire a correct orientation and true wisdom and education, since from a young age they are learning the sacred writings "that give the wisdom of salvation".

Third, the purpose of human life is not marriage, but theosis. Many say that the purpose of their life is marriage. While there are others who argue that in order to be saved one must become a monastic. According to Orthodox theology, both of these are incorrect. God blessed marriage and the increase of the human race in the way we are familiar, because He foreknew the fall of man into sin. Otherwise the propagation of the human race would have taken place another way. But even monasticism is a means and not a purpose of life. The encounter with God can be achieved by both methods, as long as one lives in an Orthodox manner, is obedient to the Church and struggles to live the true repentance which leads to healing, namely the purification of the heart from the passions, the illumination of the nous and theosis.

The Gospel of Christ is for all people. The experience within the Church, with Orthodox guidance, leads to communion with God. This is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit that unifies existence, pacifies and rejoices the heart, and leads to salvation.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Η ΤΕΤΡΑΡΙΘΜΟΣ ΤΩΝ ΟΣΙΩΝ ΧΟΡΕΙΑ" ή ΜΙΑ ΑΓΙΑ ΟΙΚΟΓΕΝΕΙΑ (ΞΕΝΟΦΩΝ, ΜΑΡΙΑ, ΑΡΚΑΔΙΟΣ ΚΑΙ ΙΩΑΝΝΗΣ), January 1999. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.